Tragedy in Monrovia

This is heartbreaking. Ashoka Mukpo at NPR:

When James Harris rushed his wife, Salome Karwah, to a hospital at the edge of Monrovia on the night of February 19, he expected that she’d be treated as a priority case. Salome was a prominent Ebola survivor and ex-Doctors Without Borders employee who’d graced the cover of Time magazine in 2014 as one of the “Ebola Fighters” named persons of the year. And the hospital — run by an international Christian aid organization affiliated with the U.S.-based charity Samaritan’s Purse — had earned a reputation for providing care to survivors.

In fact, Salome had just been discharged from the same hospital a few hours earlier. She’d given birth to her fourth child two days before, undergoing a Caeserean section despite a dangerously high spike in her blood pressure, which Harris says had periodically popped back up in the days after the procedure. Privately complaining to Harris that she was being neglected by hospital staff, Salome returned home on the 19th to tend to her newborn son. Not long after, Harris says, she collapsed, foaming at the mouth and wracked by convulsions.

But when Harris reached the hospital — known as ELWA, or Eternal Love Winning Africa — he says the doctor on duty refused to treat Salome. A doctor who specializes in treating Ebola survivors wasn’t present, and Harris was told he’d have to take her to a different hospital. In anguish, Harris says he pleaded with the doctor, growing increasingly agitated as his wife convulsed in the front seat of his car outside.

“[The doctor] was checking Facebook,” Harris says. “I had to rush into the emergency room myself to get a wheelchair, but I was struggling to take her from the car to put her in it. Other nurses came to help me, but the doctor told me that she would not touch her, and that if [Salome] stayed [at the hospital] she would die.”

A doctor who specializes in treating Ebola survivors did eventually get there, but Karwah died.

They both had Ebola but survived.

Doctors Without Borders staff noticed that Harris and Salome had shown an inclination to care for the other patients and hired the two of them to serve as psycho-social counselors to the sick.

“She was so caring,” he remembers. “They told us we should only spend 30 minutes in [protective gear], but sometimes she would stay in the ward for 2 or 3 hours, just talking to patients and telling them to have hope.”

Interviewed by NPR in 2014, Salome Karwah said, “”It was not hard to come back [to the Ebola treatment center]. Of course I lost my two parents here … but if I can help someone survive, I will be very happy.”

But she couldn’t get prompt treatment in an emergency so she died.

Now, in the wake of Salome’s death, both Harris and  [Salome Karwah’s sister] Josephine are accusing staff from ELWA hospital of malpractice, saying that she was stigmatized and discriminated against because she was an Ebola survivor.

“We look at it as stigma,” Harris says. “The doctor said that the other doctor who normally works on survivors wasn’t around to treat the ‘special’ patient. I said because she’s not around my wife will die? And [the doctor] told me yes.”

ELWA hospital is managed by a Christian aid organization called Serving in Mission, which made headlines during the Ebola crisis when two American doctors working with the organization contracted the disease in 2014. It’s considered to be among the best health facilities in Monrovia, operating a special clinic for Ebola survivors that treats secondary complications like vision loss and joint pain.

Maybe they should waive the rule about needing specialists to treat Ebola survivors when it’s an emergency?

At any rate, it’s heartbreaking.

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